“I don’t need the church to be a Christian.”
“The church is filled with hypocrites, that’s why I don’t attend.”
“I’ve been hurt by the church, that’s why I stay away from it.”
“All I need is Jesus.”
“I love Jesus but not the church.”
It is not uncommon for me to hear comments like these. Hey, I get it. I grew up as a pastor’s kid (PK). Probably better than most I know how easily it is to get hurt or offended by others in the church. As a teen I still painfully remember my father being voted out of a church. Ponder this for a moment. Our whole family needed to attend the congregational meeting where they were going to vote so that we had a chance of my father keeping his job. It didn’t help. My dad lost his job over petty issues and I have family members to this day who have stayed away from God because of the trauma that occurred in the church. In fact, it was painful moments like these as a child that led me to say to myself that I would never go into ministry. Surprise, surprise. So, yes, I fully understand what it’s like dealing with negative emotions when it comes to the church.
I am preaching through the book of Philippians and I love it. I love Paul’s spiritual intensity and his love for Christ/others. So this week I opened up Philippians 4:1 and read this:
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
At first I just cruised past this verse, but then I came back to it and started meditating on it. Stop for a moment and reflect on the way that Paul is talking about the church at Philippi:
- They are his brothers and sisters. Paul knows that these are not just people he worships with on Sunday. These are dear friends in the Lord. They are family.
- He loves them and longs for them. This longing means that Paul had a deep desire to be with them.
- They are his joy and his crown. Paul’s joy, first and foremost, is found in Christ. The entire book of Philippians makes that clear. But Paul also finds joy in knowing that these Christians are doing well and growing in their faith. Paul uses the metaphor of a crown to communicate the fact that he sees the church as a precious treasure.
- And finally he refers to them as his beloved. Paul is leaving no doubt regarding just how deeply he loves the Christians at Philippi.
Where did Paul get this kind of love for others? Why are his emotions so strong for this local church? The answer is that Paul had a deep love for Jesus Christ and from this overflowed a deep love for Jesus’ family.
Paul reminds us in a very powerful way that God is not calling us just into community with Him, but the moment we are saved we are also brought into community with his other sons and daughters. We can’t say that we love Jesus and at the same time reject his bride (the church). Are you struggling when it comes to finding a church where you can make deep relationships? My hope and prayer for you is that Paul’s love for Christ and others will inspire you see the church as your ‘beloved.’